Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mobile Device Options and the Baby in the Oven

Long time followers of my blog have probably read posts extolling the virtues of Linux and Unix-based computing (like the Mac), and many know how much of a huge Apple fan I have become in just a few short years. I still believe the best marriage of hardware, OS, and software in a mix of laptop, desktop, phone, tablet, and set top boxes is Apple. However, Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu Linux, have recently announced the pending release of Ubuntu 13.04 LTS (2013 April) which will include mobile platform support. Now for many reasons I still think Apple has them way beat, but this I think will be a contender, and may well knock Android down more than it impacts Apple's market share. Let's look at why I think so.
  • Innovative redesign of touch screen use
    • Ubuntu has brilliantly defined an environment for full-screen edge-to-edge mobile applications.  While the rest of the interface may or may not be as coherent, elegant, and performance-based as iOS, this alone is a giant leap forward.
    • Not a single mobile OS makes it easy for applications to take full edge-to-edge screen use, until now.  Screen real estate may be more valuable than Manhattan real estate!
  • Synergy
    • With Apple, the synergy of phone, tablet, and PC are well known (here I use the generic meaning of PC, not the "non-Apple" definition).  Everything works great together.
    • Apple now has perhaps 3 well-known Operating Systems in production use.  These are Mac OS X, iOS, and Apple TV OS.  Although the roots of the other 2 are OS X, they are separate and distinct builds, with their own libraries.  If you build an app for one, it works only on that one.  Right now, developers can only release apps for the first 2 in general, but there are rumors that Apple may open up the App Store for developers to Apple TV apps.
    • However, with Ubuntu, they only have one desktop OS.  Ubuntu.  The mobile touch-based interface represents the OS adapting to the hardware it detects, such that if you hook a keyboard, mouse, and screen to your phone - it will morph to the Gnome desktop.  Same OS. This means a total synergy of all platforms, and applications!!
    • Now, imagine someone makes a set-top-box ala Roku/Apple TV/Google TV, and imagine that it implements Ubuntu - with its vast array of apps for download.  Wow.  Wow!
  • Apple Ecosphere vs. Ubuntu Ecosphere vs. Android Messosphere
    • With Apple, everything works together, seamlessly.
    • With Android, it is a total mess.  Do you buy apps from the Market, or Amazon?  Or Nook, or just download them (ala the wild wild west) willy nilly and throw whatever virus-ridden app you want on your precious device?  What about the pricing structure - or lack of?  How does one market their app - certainly not effectively through new media.  How does an app developer make money off their app, and make a viable business model?
    • Ubuntu has had the Software Centre from the beginning.  Just like the Mac App Store or iTunes App Store, it is a central place from which to discover, purchase, download, and install apps onto your device.  The key kicker here:  There is only one OS!!  This means that an app developed for Ubuntu - only has to work on Ubuntu, to work on any device - phone, tablet, or PC.  WOW!  This is revolutionary, and a monumental achievement - if it works well.
      • Why this won't bite into Apple's market:
        • First, Apple lovers are pretty hard-core die-hards.
        • Second, the biggest advantage that Apple has here, is that an app for the iPad is not simply an iPhone app sized up.  It is totally redesigned UI (User Interface for those non-geeks) for the larger screen experience.  Unless Ubuntu has provided some pretty sophisticated libraries, AND app developers have made proper use of those libraries, you will end up with an Android-like result - apps that are merely sized bigger.
        • As a programmer for over 38 years, let me advise you as a non-programmer: when you design an app, it is very important to build in from the beginning a coherent and consistent way to deal with interaction.  That is to say, that the desktop paradigm of moving a mouse pointer around, does not translate perfectly into the mobile touch-screen environment.  Further, when you move across hardware devices from one manufacturer to another, or from one device type to another (think phone vs. tablet), the underlying hardware drivers and components may make your app crash or behave unexpectedly.  Therefore, Apple spent a lot of time, money, and effort to redesign the OS X to make iOS, so that they would have a platform that specifically targets from-the-ground-up designs specifically for mobile small-screen devices, optimizing the interactions.  And iOS has built-in the ability to detect, are you running on an iPhone/iPod, or iPad, or whatever new device they come up with in the future?
      • Why this will bite into Android's market:
        • Ubuntu runs on Android-compatible hardware
        • Ubuntu runs Android Java-based apps
        • I don't believe Android users are as loyal to Android as Apple users are to i-devices
        • Frankly, the reason Apple has sprung from a mediocre smallish company to the hands-down largest market cap in the world is not just product, but product reliability, and product support.  Did I just say "support?"  I meant to say "SUPPORT!"  Apple could open up a standalone business just doing training of other businesses in how to run a support center.  You think Apple customers are loyal only because of the products?  I don't stick with AT&T Wireless only because of the cellular coverage - believe me!  All those Samsung customers can evaporate as easily and quickly as they were acquired, if something else comes along.
        • Another huge fragmentation in the Android-sphere is the fact that, according to many studies, the vast majority of Android users are running on older, outdated versions of the Operating System.  In contrast, when Apple released iOS 6 with the iPhone 5 last September, within a month they had tens of millions of downloads.  The majority of iOS 6-capable devices run iOS 6.  With Ubuntu, they also have large market penetration of updates, especially LTS (Long-Term-Support) releases.  The unified OS means they only have one OS to maintain, and I would anticipate it to be much more stable (eventually), perhaps even across hardware platforms.
Agree?  Disagree?  Post your comments!

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